Tesla Motors’ mass-market Model 3 electric cars. Picture: REUTERS
Tesla Motors’ mass-market Model 3 electric cars. Picture: REUTERS

New York/Portland — Elon Musk’s Model 3, once touted as Tesla’s $35,000 car for the masses, can now set a buyer back almost $80,000.

Musk unveiled specifications for a faster and more powerful version of the Model 3 in a series of tweets over the weekend. It will cost $78,000, more than double the $35,000 base-model starting price discussed in the run-up before the electric car’s deliveries started in 2017. And that doesn’t include the Autopilot driver-assist feature.

The increasingly expensive configurations for the Model 3 are planned steps, if somewhat counterintuitive ones, toward Musk’s vision of Tesla as a mass-production player with vehicles affordable to a broader swath of buyers. The $78,000 sticker puts the electric sedan beyond reach of many consumers, and, by Musk’s own estimations, brings it closer to the realm of luxury cars.

"A Model 3 with a $35,000 price will be the rarest of the rare," said Kevin Tynan, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst. "Perhaps the second-most collectible Tesla ever, behind the one floating around in space."

Musk’s latest tweets build the hype around a car that’s faced repeated production delays and manufacturing bottlenecks, which the company is just starting to clear. Tesla delivered 8,180 of the sedans in the first quarter, making it the best-selling electric car in the US, and almost 500,000 people have put down $1,000 deposits for Model 3s.

Original vision

When Model 3 deliveries started in July 2017, Tesla described the $35,000 price for a Model 3 with a standard battery with a 354km range before options or incentives. But its focus was on fulfilling orders for customers who wanted longer-range battery packs with faster charging, pushing the price up to about $44,000.

Tesla said in February a dual motor version would come at midyear and a standard battery pack would be available in late 2018. In a letter to shareholders earlier this month, Musk said that the company would begin offering new options such as all-wheel drive — and a base model with a standard-sized battery pack — once his factory in Fremont, California, reaches a production rate of 5,000 cars a week.

Only the expensive performance model was mentioned in Musk’s tweets this weekend. The company’s current business model and financial position — it’s operating at a loss and has negative operating cash flow — mean "that this is not the time for a $35,000 Model 3," Tynan said in e-mailed comments.

Newest Model 3

The new dual-motor, all-wheel drive performance version of the Model 3 will have a top speed of 250km/h, a 500km range and acceleration from standstill to 96.5km/h in 3.5 seconds, Musk wrote.

The latest performance Model 3 will cost "about same as BMW M3, but is 15% quicker and with better handling," Musk tweeted. The car "will beat anything in its class on the track", he said. It will also be available with black and white interiors. According to BMW’s website, a BMW M3 sedan has a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price of about $66,500.

The pricey version of the Model 3 is in keeping with Musk’s earlier practices with the Model S luxury sedan and Model X sport utility vehicle — adding options and higher specifications to help generate cash that can be used to eventually build vehicles for mainstream buyers.

Shipping a minimum-cost Model 3 right away "would cause Tesla to lose money and die", Musk said on Twitter. The company needs 3-6 months after achieving production of 5,000 units a week before it can ship a $35,000 Model 3 and survive, he said.

Burning cash

The company burnt through more than $1bn of cash in the first quarter and may need to tap capital markets for more than $10bn by 2020 to fund its car-making operations, new products and expected expansion into China, Goldman Sachs analysts said last week. Mounting liquidity pressures and challenges with Model 3 production prompted Moody’s to cut the car maker’s credit rating further into junk status in March, adding fuel to a sell-off of the company’s bonds to record lows.

For every additional thousand dollars that ends up being added to the price of Model 3, the size of the US vehicle market that buys cars that are that expensive shrinks 1%-2%, according to Kelley Blue Book. That’s a trade-off the company is willing to make.

The profit is in the higher trims, Ivan Drury, senior manager of industry analysis at Edmunds.com, said by phone. "The idea that it’s supposed to be a car for everyone is kind of laughable," Drury said. "Anyone who wanted a base model may have to wait years out."

Bloomberg

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